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Joy Mangano has been standing in front of America for 25 years. In 1992, she was a 36-year-old single mother from Long Island who had just prototyped her Miracle Mop, a self-wringing contraption that promised to revolutionize the deadening task of cleaning floors. That year, she landed an infomercial spot on QVC and sold 18,000 mops in 20 minutes.
Mangano became very famous very quickly, and she's been sitting firmly atop the mantle of infomercial royalty in the decades since. Her business has blossomed into an empire, vaulting her into the public spotlight. All this while raising three children, now her business partners, who treated her manufacturing facility as a playground.
Mangano’s life was canonized in Joy, the 2015 David O. Russell film headlined by Jennifer Lawrence that told her mythopoetic narrative to a new generation. It depicted the many extenuating circumstances that nearly deterred Mangano from realizing her fantasies. Lawrence, nominated for an Oscar for her performance a year ago, portrayed Mangano as a harried, entrepreneurial Cinderella tugged in every conceivable direction. She was a woman who succeeded in spite of these barriers—or, maybe, because of them. With this film's success came a younger, more passionate base of believers in Mangano's gospel.
“Quite frankly, it just made me busier,” Mangano tells me when we speak earlier this week, taking a moment to consider what impact the movie’s release had on her business. 2016 was a banner year for Mangano, now 61. She launched a reinvented version of her flagship product, the New Miracle Mop (it sold 210,000 units in a 24-hour timeframe); introduced her TuffTech™ luggage line; and expanded the Joy brand into Macy’s, Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, and the Container Store.
Her latest chapter is food. Last summer, she opened Jema, a "globally-inspired restaurant" named after the Portuguese-language word for “gem.” The opening of Jema isn't so much a pivot as it is an organic extension of what Mangano's long wanted to pursue. Being Italian-American, she grew up in a household where her great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother all cooked for her. Her childhood was all about what she ate, and honoring the hands that cooked her food.
“I’m all about the home,” she explains. “I make home products. But I’ve worked with many chefs in designing products with them over the years." She cites Todd English, Lorena Garcia, Ming Tsai, Curtis Stone, and Wolfgang Puck as her friends and collaborators. Inside her expansive catalog are many inventions that speak directly to the needs of home cooks, from her environmentally-friendly GreenPan cookware, radical in 2007 for its ceramic nonstick technology, to the Piatto Bakery Box, a collapsible container for pastries.
Mangano noticed a dearth of fine dining experiences comparable to those in New York City on Long Island, where she still lives—and she wanted to change that. So she teamed up with chef Franco Sampogna and seasoned restaurant manager Bernardo Carolo, two men she claims were “dropped from heaven,” to overtake a four-story rustic building in Huntington for the restaurant of her dreams. On the menu, you'll find shinnecock scallops and Long Island duck; since opening last September, the restaurant has attracted some breathlessly effusive press.
For Mangano, occupying this particular corner of the spotlight for the past quarter-century has called for her to be a deft storyteller, to broadcast genuine warmth as she sells a product. What these infomercials rarely gave her the space to convey, though, was this hardscrabble origin story that had not only defined her, but also informed her business acumen. The film, she tells me, lent her story more texture.
“What the movie did was take people through a little tunnel to the story behind me," she says. "Now, so often, I get people coming up to me and hugging me saying, 'Your story inspired me to do this or that. I never knew you were so brave.' It added a sense of authenticity to the path of how I came to do what I do."
When she talks about Jema, she sounds like a mother speaking about one of her children: possessive, territorial, and unerringly proud of what she's created. It's as if the film came at the right moment for Mangano, who wanted to take her aspirations further than anyone could've imagined.
After fifteen minutes of speaking to her, though, she tells me it's time to go—it’s a Monday, after all. The week’s just getting started, and there’s more work to be done.